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BBC THEROPOD PROGRAMME



Last night BBC2 screened a documentary on big dinosaurs - - I can't 
remember the title. As you'll doubtless have heard it covered 
_Argentinosaurus_, _Giganotosaurus_, the new carcharodontosaur, 
and Phil Currie's work on the Barnum Brown albertosaur bonebed.

First part of the documentary concentrated on Late Cretaceous faunal 
provincalism - they went to great pains to explain how 
_Tyrannosaurus_ and giant sauropods (insultingly, they referred to 
sauropods as 'long necks'...) did not meet, but wrongly emphasised the 
point that South America was, in terms of fauna, a unique continent. 
Of course South America was more likely 'normal': it's North America 
that was weird. The discovery of _Argentinosaurus_ and 
_Giganotosaurus_ was then recounted. Lots of shots of Rudolpho 
Coria in a jeep, lots of music from Stargate (I kid you not), some guy 
called Tom Holtz... 

Unfortunately all the animation was just recycled from WWD: for 
_Argentinosaurus_ they used the WWD _Diplodocus_ (but sans 
dermal spines), for _Giganotosaurus_ they used the awful WWD 
_Allosaurus_ (but sans red eye horns). As TV people are want to do, 
they added audible thumps for every footstep of the two dinosaurs. 
Sigh.

The next part of the programme was based on the following logic: 
_Giganotosaurus_ and _Argentinosaurus_ lived side by side, and 
_Giganotosaurus_ looks suited to be a sauropod killer. But one 
_Giganotosaurus_ is not big enough to kill one _Argentinosaurus_, so 
were giant theropods social predators? On this point they showed 
opposing views. Angela Milner, Matt Carrano (filmed on visit to the 
NHM) and Mark Norell were all shown as saying that group-hunting 
for giant theropods wasn't likely based on what we know about 
trackways, behavioural complexity etc etc. I think Tom was non-
committal.

But they then explained Phil Currie's hunch, and his rediscovery of the 
albertosaur bonebed. Currie was shown scouring the badlands for the 
Barnum Brown site, excavating the albertosaurs and then explaining 
why the site probably was not a flood assemblage or a predator trap (as 
was suggested by Angela Milner). Rancho La Brea was discussed as an 
example of a predator trap. Finally, the discovery of a 
carcharodontosaur bonebed in Patagonia was implied to be 
justification for the social-hunting model.

They insisted on referring to 'packing' and 'pack-hunting' behaviour: 
even if giant theropods were social hunters, these terms are 
problematical. Others might argue that this is semantics however.

For dinosaur nerds, there was lots of trivia to look out for. A Mike T 
sculpture appeared on Currie's desk and he wore a Mike Skrepnick 
_Sinosauropteryx_ t-shirt. Fernando Novas made an appearance and 
there were shots of the excavation of _Argentinosaurus_, the AMNH 
_Tyrannosaurus_ mount and tyrannosaurs at Drumheller. Mark Norell 
had allosaur and pachycephalosaur skulls in his (huge) office. Tom 
Holtz played with carcharodontosaur teeth. There was no mention of 
feathers. Why they filmed Tom in the park and not in his office has 
become the subject of some speculation.

Overall it was good fun. There was a LOT of cliche - discoveries and 
landscape scenes were heavily Hollywoodized - but I suppose the 
material was fairly novel.

New ish of _Natural History_ has a Gould article on feathered 
theropods that completely misses the point. More later if I have time.

DARREN NAISH 
PALAEOBIOLOGY RESEARCH GROUP
School of Earth, Environmental & Physical Sciences
UNIVERSITY OF PORTSMOUTH
Burnaby Building
Burnaby Road                           email: darren.naish@port.ac.uk
Portsmouth UK                          tel (mobile): 0776 1372651     
P01 3QL                                tel (office): 023 92842244
                                       tel (home): 023 80446718